French and Welsh United to Honour Heroic Owain AP Thomas "Lawgoch"
My wife and
I were very fortunate to be able to attend a superbly organised Joint
Cultural Festival at Montague-sur-Gironde (near La Rochelle) between the
15th and 19th of August this year. The occasion was the unveiling of a
monument to commemorate the last male heir of the Welsh royal family,
namely Owain Lawgoch (Owen of the Red Hand), or as the French would have
it – Yvain de Galles, the great nephew of the last Welsh Prince of Wales
and a formidable Captain General of France, a renowned military commander.
Owain’s exploits in France in the 14th century had included forays into
adjoining countries and he was paid a huge sum for his part in a proposed
invasion of England.
Owain’s place in French
history has stood the test of time and his name is revered by the
inhabitants of Montagne. In Wales he had largely been consigned to history,
a legendary figure associated with Carreg Cennen Castle. However, his
identity and his reputation has been rescued from the annals of time and
detailed in a book entirely devoted to him, entitled “Owain of Wales”,
published in 1991, written by Professor Antony D. Carr of Bangor University.
Owain in the eyes of the
French was the Prince of Wales and as a fearless adversary of the English in
France, he was held in great repute. Indeed, he was such a thorn and threat
to the English state that a plan was hatched in England to carry out a
political assassination. The plot came to fruition on a summer day in 1378
at a time and place where Owain was in the process of besieging the English
in Montagne Castle. His demise came at the hands of one of his own henchmen,
a squire called John Lambe, whose treachery had been signalled and
authorised by an English commander, Sir John Neville, in London. Lambe, who
was an attendant to Owain, speared his master in the back for a reward of
The three-day Festival
centred on the ceremony to unveil the monument commemorating Owain Lawgoch,
Le Chevalier á la Main Rouge. The monument takes the shape of a great hand,
some eight feet high, sculpted by a French stonemason. In the palm of the
hand is a slate disc made in North Wales. The disc is marked with the two
lions of Gwynedd, the arms of Owain the Red Hand, Owain Lawgoch and Yvain de
Galles. The monument is built on the site of the old castle.
The crowd watches as the
huge hand holding the Welsh slate plaque is unveiled
We travelled to Montagne on
the 15th August. In glorious sunshine and high temperatures the town of
Montagne was enveloped in a festive atmosphere. The main roads had been
cordoned off to allow the town to be pedestrianised. Hundreds of Welsh
people had arrived by coaches and ferries, Welsh dignitaries by plane. The
streets were alive with the mingling of French and Welsh voices against a
colourful background of costumes. The Bar de Medoc was crammed with people,
as was the Tourist Office, outside which I spotted Professor Antony Carr and
his wife Glenda, whom I had not seen since the late 1960’s.
The programme of events
included a week’s exhibition of contemporary art and craft from Wales,
street entertainment, folk dancing, troubadours, a Grand Parade of folk
groups, musicians, singers, local children in medieval costumes, flag
bearers, knights on horseback, Grand Repas or Gala dinners, visits to
vineyards and distilleries, food stalls, river trips on the Gironde and
The streets are
A large marquee (chapiteau)
housed the major events – dinners, concerts, dances and speeches. The
unveiling ceremony attracted a huge crowd with French government
representatives and a French general in attendance. Welsh dignitaries
included Lord Livesey of Talgarth, Roger Williams, M.P., Mrs Rosemary
Butler, A.M. and Dafydd Wigley.
The Grande Finale on Sunday
the 17th of August included a huge fireworks display on the port area with
food and entertainments. The local people had provided a week of tremendous
hospitality – with accommodation, superb food and wine – and we Welsh
realised it would be very difficult to emulate and reciprocate.
All of this, on the Welsh
side, was due to the inspiration of one man, Mr Bryan Davies of Brecon, who
became passionately interested in Owain after a visit to Carreg Cennen
Castle in 1990. Over the ensuing year he had negotiated with the Mayor of
Montagne, strived heroically to raise money and sponsors and established the
Owain Lawgoch Society. His work and organisation came to fruition with a
Joint Festival which was a tremendous success through great collaboration.
It is worth noting that the French made a grant of £36,000 and the Welsh
Assembly £9000 to the event.